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Subject: ‘Famous battles’
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Posted in Africa, Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Marcus Regulus first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Shading his eyes from the hot sun, Marcus Regulus took one last look at the little farm upon which he sustained his family on the outskirts of Rome. Then he kissed his wife Marcia and his two sons goodbye and mounted his horse. The brief act in the life of Regulus that was to give him an amazing place in history had begun.
Regulus was mindful of it. As he rode towards the Senate House in Rome, his mind dwelt on the circumstances that were projecting him, a poor farmer, into a limelight he had never sought.
In this year of 256 BC Rome was at war with Carthage, her bitter enemy on the north coast of Africa. In time of war, the Senate decreed that the command of the army should go to the two consuls elected for that year – one from the rich patrician class and one from the plebian, or working class.
The patrician consul was Lucius Manlius. And his plebian counterpart was Marcus Atilius Regulus, the farmer.
Regulus had no fear of war, not even with the barbarian Africans of Carthage, who were known to feed their prisoners to the flames of the furnace in the belly of their giant, grotesque idol Moloch. But he was justified in being apprehensive of this particular war, for Carthage was famed for her fleet which ruled the Mediterranean, and to defeat the Africans Rome had first to win the war at sea.
To that end, the shipyards of Rome had been at full strength for months, building a fleet to match that of Carthage. Nearly 150,000 sailors were planned to man the new ships – helmsmen, oarsmen, and perhaps most important of all, handlers of the corvus, the secret weapon with which Rome’s architects of war hoped to win the sea battle – the victory they had to have before the land battle on Carthagian territory.
The corvus was simply a grappling iron. With it the Romans planned to pull the Carthaginian ships to their side so that their soldiers, who had little or no experience of fighting at sea, could turn the fight into a land battle, the land being the decks of the two ships linked by the corvus.
Regulus dwelt on all these things as, with his orders from the Senate, he embarked with his co-consul Manlius at the head of Rome’s 330 glittering new fighting ships. It wasn’t long before, off the coast of Sicily, they sighted the Carthaginian fleet, larger still, and commanded by Hanno and Hamilcar, two of ancient history’s shrewdest, battle-hardened admirals.
The Romans used ships as they used men – always in tight formation. To break that formation was the enemy’s first priority. Hanno and Hamilcar sailed their great quinqueremes straight at the Roman wedge formation, splitting it in two. Then they split the two into three, isolating each section before bringing it under fire.
Regulus had one strategy, and only one. That was the corvus. If it failed, if he could not bring his ships close in to the enemy, he would be at the mercy of their superior seamanship. Through the Carthaginian broadsides of deadly arrows and huge, burning darts, he sailed remorselessly closer – and closer.
The iron chains of the grappling irons rattled ominously as they swung out through the air, fell, and anchored themselves on the Carthaginian decks. Wooden prows struck and splintered as the Romans, glistening with sweat, pulled on the chains, dragging the enemy ships full against their sides, crunching the outstretched oars as the gap between them closed. Up went the drawbridge and over them went the Roman soldiers, shield to shield, spears poised to strike a thousand lethal blows.
They had turned the sea battle into a ‘land’ battle. And on land they were the masters.
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Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about the Second World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.
David Stirling leads 'Stirling's Raiders' against German and Italian air forces in North Africa by Graham Coton
Hobbling on his crutches, the 6 ft. 6 in. Scottish subaltern presented himself at the main entrance of Middle East Headquarters in Cairo one July morning in 1941, only to be told that no one could enter without a pass. He moved away, waited until the sentries were busy with the occupants of a staff car, then left his crutches against a tree and slipped through a break in the barbed wire. “Stop that man!” roared one of the sentries, but by that time David Stirling, Scots Guards, attached to No. 8 Commando, had disappeared through the front door of H. Q.
Moving as fast as his back and leg injuries would allow – he had been in a parachute accident – he found a door marked Adjutant General and marched in. The major within not only told him to clear out, but reminded him that they had met before when Stirling had slept through his lectures on tactics!
So Stirling decided to aim higher and gatecrashed General Ritchie, Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Middle East, who liked the look of his unexpected guest and asked what he wanted. It turned out that the lame lieutenant wanted to destroy the German and Italian air forces on the ground!
Stirling had become convinced that as modern war was now so mobile, small groups operating behind enemy lines and destroying planes, ammunition dumps, repair shops and vehicles could achieve more than most air attacks. Ritchie liked the idea and summoned in his assistant, who turned out to be the fuming major that Stirling had just left. The major hoped he could arrest the young upstart, but instead found himself being ordered to help him. Ritchie passed Stirling’s plans on to the Commander-in-Chief, General Auchinleck, who liked them so much that he ordered the giant Scot to recruit six officers and 60 men and set up a training camp.
He collected his volunteers and soon proved his point by two “attacks” on an R.A.F. base and a naval vessel, using dummy bombs and then ringing up the next day to ask for them back! One of his men, Lieutenant Jock Lewes, invented a combined explosive and incendiary bomb for their raids, a time bomb which weighed under a pound, but could knock out a plane. A single soldier could carry 24 of them.
Stirling’s men were known as L Detachment S.A.S. – Special Air Service – which would make the Germans think that there were British parachute troops in the North African desert.
Even David Stirling’s quick brain did not at once stumble on the right method of transport for his men. Their first operation used planes to get them near their target and then the men dropped by parachute, but the raid failed because too many men failed to rendezvous after the drop. So it was decided to team up with the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance unit, who could take them by truck exactly where they wanted to go and pick them up again after their raids.
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Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Pierre Bayard first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Watching from a hilltop the fierce battle raging below him, King Charles the Eighth of France nudged an aide at his side.
“There is a young knight of our army who is forever in the thick of the fight,” he observed. “You see him yonder, covered with blood. What is his name?”
Following the King’s outstretched arm, the aide replied, “He is Pierre Bayard, sire, a knight of Dauphine.”
The scene was the Battle of Fornovo in Italy; the month and the year, July, 1495. Charles had set out for the southern country determined to win back for France the city-state of Naples, which had been taken by the Spanish. He had succeeded in the task but now, on the way back, the people of northern Italy were standing their ground at Fornovo and fighting the invaders. They wanted to make the French army pay for the looting they had practised on their outward journey through Italy.
Right was on the Italians’ side, but might was with the French. They swept the Italians aside at Fornovo in a bloody day of fighting. And of all the brave men who performed deeds of valour on that field, none was braver than the 20-year-old knight Pierre Bayard, whom King Charles himself had noticed.
Twice Bayard had a horse killed under him and each time he vaulted on to a fresh mount and plunged anew into the fray. His zeal took him into the core of the Italian army; there, flailing with his sword, he uprooted an enemy banner. At the end of the day he presented the trophy to the King. Impressed, Charles gave his loyal young knight a reward of 500 crowns.
France was to hear much more of Pierre Bayard for, as some men grow up with a single-minded ambition, Bayard’s aim from his earliest boyhood was to become a famous soldier – to make himself a legend of chivalry and honour in the Renaissance times in which he lived.
We often say of well-born people that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. In the case of le Seigneur de Pierre Bayard it was not a silver spoon so much as a sword of honour. For in the two centuries before his birth nearly every head of his noble family at their magnificent chateau in Dauphine had fallen in battle.
Like all his famous ancestors, Pierre’s father had the scent of battle in his nostrils. He belonged to the fast-dying medieval school of knightly chivalry and each day he indoctrinated young Pierre with the chivalric code of honour: “Serve God. Be kindly and courteous to all men of gentle breeding. Be humble to all people. Be neither a flatterer nor a teller of tales. Be faithful in deed and in speech. Always keep your word.”
The great passion of chivalry, symbolised in tournaments, parading ladies and sumptuous banquets, was fast ebbing away when Pierre Bayard was born into a family that would not let it go.
At the last of the great tournaments young Bayard spurred his horse and broke his lance several times by driving it into the ground – a favourite trick of jousting knights to show the strength of their arm. The ladies clapped and cheered shrilly. When the day came for him to leave the family castle to seek his fortune we are told that “finding himself astride his well-bred roan, he deemed he was in Paradise.”
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Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Rorke’s Drift first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Dust flicked into the horseman’s eyes and caked on to his skin still prickling with fear and shock. The rocky landscape flashed by, a cheerless, inhospitable vista which, for all its surface calm, could easily hide clutches of warriors, ready to pounce, not content, as Lieutenant Vane well knew, merely to kill their victims. After what had happened at Isandhlwana, Vane had no doubt about the fate that awaited him if he fell into Zulu hands.
A gentle rise in the ground brought him within sight of Rorke’s Drift. It looked pitifully vulnerable, just a couple of long, stone buildings with the slopes of Mount Oskarberg rising behind them, and it had no defences, no ramparts and no entrenchments.
The wave of Zulus swarming over the few miles from Isandhlwana could swamp the place in minutes and “wash their spears,” as their ruthless king had commanded, in yet more human blood.
The ferocity and dedication of the Zulu warrior was well known and well feared in the Transvaal a century ago. The Boers, who first ventured there in 1835, had found them a constant danger to their farms, their herds, in fact to their very survival, and when the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877, they inherited the problem.
Their solution was both imperious and arbitrary: the only way to remove the Zulu menace was to annexe Zululand.
It was to provide an excuse for annexation that in December 1878, the British presented Cetawayo, the Zulu king, with demands they knew he could not meet: for to do so would have meant handing his land and people over to the British and dismantling his army.
As expected, Cetawayo ignored the ultimatum, and the result, as planned, was the invasion of Zululand in mid-January 1879 by 13,000 British troops.
When their entry went unopposed, many British soldiers presumed that this was to be yet another colonial war in which wild, disorganised savages would be quickly overcome by the superior weapons and fighting methods of the white man.
The first troops to discover the fatal falsity of this notion were those who were encamped, casually and without defences, at Isandhlwana on 22nd January. That morning, a great tide of Zulus poured down from the surrounding hills and erupted into the camp, slashing and stabbing with their assegais until over 1,300 men lay dead.
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Posted in Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, London, Rivers, Ships on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about Lord Nelson first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.
An accurate view from the house of W Tunnard on the Bankside, adjoining the site of Shakespeare Theatre, on 8 January 1806, when the remains of the great Admiral Lord Nelson was (sic) brought from Greenwich to Whitehall, by J T Smith
It was the thickest fog that London had endured for many years, but some carriages on that November night in 1805 crawled slowly towards their destinations, carrying passengers with urgent business to attend to. Two of them went through the gates of the Admiralty at around 1 am, each containing a Naval officer who by sheer coincidence, was bearing the same news.
The news was at once triumphant and tragic. On October 21, the British fleet had smashed the combined fleets of France and Spain, but Lord Nelson, Britain’s greatest sailor had been killed in the hour of victory.
The newspapers carried the story on November 7, but by then most people had heard the news. People meeting in the streets first spoke of Nelson, then of his victory. Even the London mob, which normally celebrated victories riotously was stunned and still.
It was to be two full months before the funeral, the most grief-stricken public funeral in British history. Horatio Nelson was no saint. He was not much to look at; a small, one-armed, one-eyed man, not a good husband, sometimes loathful, a man who could lose his temper. But he was brave and lovable, a kindly man adored not only by the ordinary people of Britain, but, more significantly, by his crews.
The Navy of 1805 was no place for weaklings. Many sailors had been “press-ganged” into service, where they found the food as bad as the discipline. The lash was freely administered. Yet, given a fine captain, most British tars were as proud and happy as they were adored by their countrymen.
Nelson was not just a fine captain; he was a perfect one, whose men would do more than their very best for him. When he was killed, the heart went out of the Fleet. One letter will suffice to show the general feeling. It was from a sailor called Sam, who simply and memorably wrote to his father: “I never set eyes on him (Nelson) for which I am both sorry and glad; for to be sure I should like to have seen him, but then, all the men in our ship who have seen him are such soft toads, they have done nothing but Blast their Eyes and cry ever since he was killed. God bless you chaps, that fought like the Devil, sit down and cry like a wench.”
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Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War, Weapons on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about the Battle of Crecy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.
Battle of Crecy
The day after the battle of Crecy King Edward III of England walked with his sixteen-year-old son, Edward, between the bodies of the French and English dead on the battlefield and said:
“What think you of battle, eh? Isn’t it a grand game?”
Strange question! But this was the year 1346, the medieval age of chivalry, and niceties like disliking the act of killing at sixteen years of age were unheard of.
And young Prince Edward, despite his age, had certainly killed plenty on that battlefield. The Black Prince they called him, from the black armour which he always wore. At Crecy Frenchmen learned to hate this tall, handsome youth, Englishmen to admire him.
As no other battle belonged to one man, Crecy was the Black Prince’s battle. . . .
It began on July 11, 1346, when the king sailed to France with an army of 12,000 men, most of whom were bowmen. The object was to protect English possessions in France which King Philip of France was threatening, although pretty soon it degenerated into an English plundering expedition across the north of France.
At this a French army, four times as strong as the English, not unnaturally began to give chase. At one point they nearly got close enough to pull the English tail as the impertinent invaders just scraped across the River Somme in the nick of time. Then the English marched to the village of Crecy, a tiny place with a windmill.
“We will wait for them here,” said King Edward simply.
The king’s scouts soon reported that they were waiting for a huge army – an army at least four times as big as their own. And that Philip of France had hoisted above his banner the notorious Oriflamme flag.
The Oriflamme was a French standard that signified that no prisoners would be taken and that no conditions of surrender would be accepted – in short, that the enemy could expect no mercy. Philip of France evidently felt that he was in a position to dictate thus.
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Posted in Famous battles, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about the Crimean War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 578 published on 10 February 1973.
The Valley of Death – The Charge of the Light Brigade
Throughout the Crimean War a special correspondent of “The Times” newspaper – William Howard Russell – accompanied the troops. Russell’s brilliant, vivid reporting can be seen in his description of the Charge of the Light Brigade, as printed in “The Times” of 14th November, 1854. It begins with an order for an advance against the Russians brought by Captain Nolan to Lord Lucan, who was in command of the British cavalry division and led the charge at Balaclava:
“When Lord Lucan received the order from Captain Nolan and had read it, he asked, we are told, “Where are we to advance to?” Captain Nolan pointed with his finger to the line of the Russians and said, “There are the enemy, and there are the guns, sir, before them; it is your duty to take them,” or words to that effect, according to the statement made since his death.
Lord Lucan, with reluctance, gave the order to Lord Cardigan to advance upon the guns, conceiving that his orders compelled him to do so.
The noble Earl, though he did not shrink, also saw the fearful odds against him. Don Quixote in his tilt against the windmills was not near so rash and reckless as the gallant fellows who prepared without a thought to rush on almost certain death.
The whole brigade scarcely made one effective regiment, and yet it was more than we could spare. As they passed towards the front, the Russians opened on them from the guns in the redoubt on the right with volleys of musketry and rifles.
They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could scarcely believe the evidence of our senses. Surely that handful of men are not going to charge an army in position? Alas it was but too true – their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part – discretion.
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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions, War on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about Crimea first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 578 published on 10 February 1973.
In the spring of 1854, a large Expeditionary Army left Britain bound for the Crimea. No one, it seemed, was quite certain what the war was about. In some manner Britain had become involved in a quarrel between Russia and Turkey, and was about to invade Russian territory. But few troubled about the larger issues: for the first time in a generation the army could show off its paces in a real war and the Expeditionary Army left in a holiday atmosphere. The transports carried ladies and their maids: room was found for private carriages: there was a profusion of flowers, choice wines and food. Lord Cardigan, Colonel of the Light Brigade, had already sent ahead his own yacht to which, during the coming battles, he would retire comfortably each night.
Britain was going to war in the old style, and the old style regarded the private soldier as the scum of the earth. It was considered – with some reason – that only a desperate man would endure the conditions of a soldier in the ranks.
Officers came only from the upper classes and they purchased their commissions. The practice was defended on the grounds that it prevented control of the army from falling into the hands of revolutionaries. It had worked in the past but, inevitably, it degenerated into a system whereby young gallants purchased control of large sections of the army over the heads of veteran soldiers, and used their command as a means of social display. Their personal bravery was unquestionable but so was their lack of military knowledge.
From the moment that the Army landed in the Crimea to its evacuation two years later it was stalked by disaster. The incompetence of the British general staff was fortunately matched, and at times surpassed by, the incompetence of their enemy: the war would otherwise have ended in a British defeat within the first few weeks. Disease, hunger and thirst took as great a toll as did the enemy. Provisions failed to arrive: vast numbers of men were sent into waterless areas, thirsty before they started: equipment proved inadequate first for the burning heat of summer and then the rigours of winter. In spite of all this, the private soldiers and their field commanders fought with extreme bravery, adding the names of the Alma, Inkerman and Balaclava to the roll of battle honours.
Until the Crimea, the British public were largely ignorant of the daily progress of a war; their only knowledge was gained through infrequent private letters and official dispatches. But throughout the Crimean War a special correspondent of “The Times” newspaper – William Howard Russell – accompanied the troops. He was present at most of the battles, but, far more important, he was an eye-witness of the needless horrors inflicted upon the troops as a result of the personal rivalries and incompetence of the general staff. He reported what he saw and the news created a storm of indignation in Britain. Among those stirred to action was Florence Nightingale who, against official opposition, managed to introduce some humanity into the appalling hospital system in the Crimea. Russell’s dispatches eventually brought down the government and led to a drastic overhaul of the archaic system of army command.
Such an overhaul was long overdue, for the cost of bungled commands was paid for in the lives of hundreds of men, who perished while obeying their officers’ ill-conceived orders.
Posted in America, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Monday, 3 March 2014
This edited article about the American Civil War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 576 published on 27 January 1973.
Camp Lee, the Confederate Head Quarters, near Richmond
Burly, bearded General “Jeb” Stuart of the Confederate Army surveyed the Union forces of General George McClellan, his most deadly rival in the American Civil War of 1861-1865.
The ranks of Union men, clad in blue, were unbroken and determined. As Stuart swept their lines with his powerful field-glasses, he doubted the wisdom of an attack against such opposition.
At once, as if reading the general’s thoughts, a small, wiry man, stepped forward eagerly. He pleaded with Stuart: “Let me get round to the rear of McClellan’s army for you. I’ll find out their real strength.”
By next morning, after an all-night ride, the brave little scout was back from his dangerous trip. He swung down from his horse and hurried to General Stuart.
“It’s a trick, sir,” he reported. “There’s only a small body of troops there, with no support. Most of the force has retreated.”
The scout’s name was John Mosby. Before long, Mosby was to become a legend to both his own side, the South, and to the enemy Union troops from the North.
The year of young Mosby’s first scouting trip behind the enemy lines was 1862, when Union troops were determined to capture Richmond, Virginia, the new capital of the eleven Confederate states which had left the Union and so helped to precipitate the Civil War. Jeb Stuart – and later, to an even greater extent, Mosby – were to give the Union soldiers a very tough run for their money!
General Robert E. Lee, in command of the defence of Richmond, had only 60,000 men. He needed to know even more about the composition of enemy forces and their intentions before he made any plans. He put his problem to Stuart who, remembering the man’s previous exploit, promptly sent for Mosby.
It took three days and nights of dangerous scouting behind the enemy lines before Mosby was able to fulfil his mission. He arrived back in camp half-dead with exhaustion. Graphically he mapped out the position of McClellan’s army.
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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 27 February 2014
This edited article about the Wars of the Roses first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.
The Earl of Warwick is cornered at the Battle of Barnet
During that tangled web of history known as the Wars of the Roses, England boasted two kings at the same time. They were Edward the Fourth of York and Henry the Sixth of Lancaster.
Two more different men no one could imagine. Edward was gay, handsome, fond only of pleasure and amusement. Henry was shy, bookish, pious and gaunt-faced.
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, knew both kings well. He liked to think that both were like putty in his hands, to be turned and twisted, throned and dethroned at his will. He was the greatest baron in England, and men called him the Kingmaker.
After the Lancastrians’ bloody victory over the Yorkists at Wakefield, near York, where Edward’s father, the Duke of York, was killed, the position of Henry the Sixth of Lancaster on the throne seemed secure for a time.
The studious Henry had his aggressive wife, Margaret of Anjou, to thank for this. It was she who had triumphed at Wakefield; she who crowned the beheaded Duke of York with a paper crown and set it upon the walls of York.
The future Edward the Fourth, York’s eldest son, was then 19, and known as Edward of March. Looking first upon the pious King Henry, then the frivolous Edward of March, the Earl of Warwick devised a scheme. He decided that if he could make Edward king, he would be able to rule the kingdom himself and have everything his own way.
In London, a great meeting of the people was held at which they were asked if they would have Edward for king. “Yea, yea, King Edward!” they shouted back, and the ambitious Warwick smiled to himself. Edward of March was as good as crowned Edward the Fourth.
First, though, there were many Lancastrians to be crushed in the field, and Warwick and Edward boldly led the Yorkists out to meet them. The two armies came face to face at Towton, near York. Here, young and amiable though he was, Edward showed that he had no mercy in his heart, for he ordered his men to take no prisoners but to kill every one.
On the battlefield, it snowed and soon the snow was red with the blood of the slain and, as it melted, it ran down the furrows in crimson streams. Twenty-eight thousand men were counted dead on the field.
At last, the Lancastrians began to flee. Henry the Sixth escaped to Northumberland with his Queen, but Warwick pursued them. Margaret managed to slip the Yorkists and got away to France, but Henry was captured when a monk betrayed his hiding-place.
Warwick must have observed his royal prisoner with glowing satisfaction. He had two kings now, but since he had set up the new one, he must make the people understand that they must revere the old one no more.
“No-one,” declared Warwick,” is to show the deposed King Henry the Sixth any respect.” So saying, he ordered Henry’s feet to be tied to his stirrups while he was led to the Tower as a prisoner.
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